The Tolling of Statutes of Limitations (Part 1)

by | Sep 10, 2018 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

On June 19, 2018, Justice Timpone wrote for a unanimous New Jersey Supreme Court in the case of State v. Gary Twiggs, et al. There were two principal issues under N.J.S.A. 2C:1-6. The first is whether the five-year criminal statute of limitations is tolled under the DNA exception when discovered DNA evidence is used to identify persons other than the “actor” and ultimately leads to the perpetrator of the crime. The second issue is whether the defendants’ acts in furtherance of concealing the details of the death of a family member amount to a continuing course of conduct that may toll the statute of limitations on conspiracy charges. In relevant part, the Court held as follows:

N.J.S.A. 2C:1-6(c) permits tolling when identification is achieved directly by DNA evidence rather than DNA evidence in addition to other means. Accordingly, it is apparent that the Legislature intended the DNA-tolling provision to apply to the sole actor whom the DNA distinctly identifies.

Although we need not resort to extrinsic sources to ascertain the Legislature’s intent here, the legislative history of N.J.S.A. 2C:1-6(c) leads us to the same conclusion. In 2002, the Senate and General Assembly amended N.J.S.A. 2C:1-6 to include the DNA exception. L. 2001, c. 308, § 1(c) (effective Jan. 3, 2002). During its drafting phase, the initial bill used the phrases “the person who commits a crime” and “the person who committed the crime” instead of “the actor.” S. 1516/A. 2658 (2000). The Sponsors’ Statement accompanying that draft stated: “this bill would remove the time limitations on the prosecution of crimes when the person who committed the crime is unknown at the time, but DNA evidence collected at the crime scene can be used to identify the person at a later date.” Sponsors’ Statement to S. 1516 (Sept. 14, 2000); Sponsors’ Statement to A. 2658 (June 29, 2000). The Legislature noted the purpose behind the criminal statutes of limitations is “to protect defendants from the use of ‘stale’ evidence against them,” but pointedly distinguished “properly collected, handled and stored” DNA evidence because it “can reliably identify defendants many years after a crime has been committed.”

The Court notes that there is no need to resort to extrinsic evidence but does so anyway. This was probably a means to make a complete record in support of their decision in case the prosecution chose to appeal to the United States Supreme Court.